While Town officials are trying to get all or most of the components of Mound House open before year's end, Mother Nature is making things more difficult.
Flooding caused by the aftermath of Tropical Strom Debby has damaged the "Stories Beneath of Feet" underground exhibit, temporarily closing tours through it and postponing the scheduled installation of a custom Calusa mural.
According to Town Manager Terry Stewart, a sump pump that was previously installed in the originally designed exhibit area was not activated during the water seepage due to improper adjustment at the time. A higher capacity sump pump will be used in the future.
"The problems developed when the water table rose up and the hydrostatic pressure (created flooding) in the below ground level where the exhibit is," he said. "Unfortunately, the sump pump was in the up position and did not come on until there was a whole lot of water in the exhibit. Staff has already corrected that problem."
Town officials have retained the services of an architectural engineer. That person will examine the effects of the flooding that may range from mold growth to the shell walls being impacted by water intrusion.
"He will be examining the integrity of the exhibit," said Stewart. "We also are going to be retaining the services of a contract archaeologist."
The exhibit's concrete floor and excavation area were affected to some degree. Drawdown wells may be looked at in the future.
"As the hydrostatic pressure pushed the water table up, it loosened the soil where the excavated checker board is and caused the sides of that to erode and fall in," said Stewart.
A FEMA application has been filed. Repair costs will not be determined until a thorough examination is conducted.
Barbara Hill of the Town's Cultural and Environmental Learning Center Advisory Board brought the Mound House exhibit issues to the public forefront during public input before Stewart's comments. CELCAB's main concern is that the integrity of the exhibit remains intact through any well digging and that a disaster preparedness plan be implemented for future flooding problems.
Hill stated Town staff contacted Dr. Annette Snapp, the Southwest Region director of the Florida Public Archaeology Newtork, in July. She reported six areas of concern, including mold growing on exhibit soil, water intrusion on shell walls and concrete floor and the instability of the shell mounds.
"This $1 million Stories Beneath Our Feet exhibit was funded in parts by grants by the State, County, Town and Friends of the Mound House group. Together, we represent a major investment by many in making the Mound House a cultural resource," said Hill. "We are collectively obliged to be good stewards."
Mound House officials have cancelled exhibit tours from Aug. 7-28.
'The assurance that we are contracting with an archaeological expert to provide guidance on this is an important aspect," said Councilman Alan Mandel, who acts as liaison to CELCAB.
Mound House officials hope for National Register
The integrity of the oldest house on Fort Myers Beach may be lifted with a national honor.
Town volunteer extraordinaire Ceel Spuhler announced that CELCAB and Bill Grace have collectively begun a process by filling out an application for Mound House to be put on the National Register of Homes. The application must be met at the state level before moving on to national accreditation.
"When you think that we will have a home on the historic registry and a 2,000-year-old underground exhibit on a seven-mile barrier island, that's pretty terrific," she said. "It is a legacy for our town."
Mound House tours on hold
Mound House tours will be cancelled Aug. 7 through Monday, Aug. 28. The original cancellation notice was for the allowance of the scheduled installation of the custom Calusa mural as well as continuing improvements on the concrete floor staining.
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